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Luna Moth, Actias luna, resting on a tree.

Luna Moth: A Brief But Beautiful Life

The beautiful luna moth, Actias luna, is a large white-bodied moth, with lime green-colored wings and pinkish legs.

This Wisconsin native is found in the state from spring to summer and flies only in the evenings. The name luna means moon, apparently a reference to the moon-like eyespots on its wings.

  Description

Luna Moth
Actias luna
Adult Lifespan: 1 week after emerging from cocoon
Wingspan: 3 to 4½ inches
Color: Lime green-colored wings and pinkish legs.
Activity: Nocturnal
Caterpillar Color: Lime green with a series of yellow lines and reddish-orange spots running down both sides.
Caterpillar Instars: Molts 5 times over 3-4 weeks
Caterpillar Diet: Alder, birch, beech, red maple, white oak, wild cherry, hazelnut, hickories, pecan, and walnut
Adult Diet: Adults do not feed

Both male and female luna moths are pale green, with long, curving tails trailing from their hindwings and light eyespots on each wing. Early season broods in the south will be darker in color, with an outer margin marked in deep pink to brown. Later southern broods and all northern broods tend to be paler in color, with an almost yellow outer margin.

Males can be differentiated from females by their prominent, feathery antennae.

Luna moth caterpillars are lime green with magenta spots and sparse hairs, and a pale stripe running lengthwise just below the spiracles. They reach a length of 2½ inches

  Life Cycle

The luna moth undergoes complete metamorphosis with 4 life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. After mating, the female luna moth oviposits on leaves of the host plant. She may produce as many as 200 eggs in total. The eggs hatch in about 1 week.

Luna moth caterpillars feed and molt through five instars (molts) in 3-4 weeks.

Once it's ready to pupate, the caterpillar constructs a simple cocoon of leaves. The pupal stage lasts about 3 weeks in warmer climates.

The luna moth will overwinter in this stage in colder regions, usually hidden under the leaf litter near the host tree. The luna moth usually emerges from its cocoon in the morning, and is ready to fly by evening. As adults, luna moths live just 1 week or less.

  Reproduction

Luna Moth, Actias luna, caterpillar.

The luna moth exhibits a pheromone mating system. Undeterred by obstacles such as leaves and branches, the male moths will persistently follow the scent trail of a female. Then the female will typically mate with the first male to reach her.

Since the luna moth is a nocturnal species, mating usually occurs in the first hours after midnight. If the pair is undisturbed then they will remain in copula until the next evening, but the slightest disturbance can cause separation. After the separation of the pair, then ovipostion will begin and continue for several nights.

A female luna moth will seek a host plant in which to oviposit. Some populations of luna moths complete more than one generation in a year.

  Behavior

Male and female luna moth pair, Actias luna.

The luna moth is a nocturnal species and is not often seen in the daytime. The Luna moth uses wing patterns as a defense against predators. The Luna moth can mimic living and dead leaves on the ground by remaining motionless when not involved in reproductive behavior and also becomes nearly impossible to see during the day when roosting on the bark of sycamore trees.

Should a bird or other predator approach, they will often rear up and attempt to scare the attacker away. When that doesn't work, the luna moth caterpillar may snap its mandibles to make a clicking sound, thought to be a warning of what's coming – vomit. Luna moth caterpillars will regurgitate a foul-tasting liquid to convince potential predators that they are not at all tasty.

  Diet

Caterpillar

The luna moth is an insect herbivore. As a caterpillar it feeds on the foliage of various species of hickory, walnut, sweet-gum, persimmon, and birch trees.

Adult

The adult luna moth does not feed during its brief life as it does not have a mouth or stomach.

Further Information:

 7 Beneificial Insects
 Climate Change Impacts On Wisconsin
 How Do Earthworms Help Your Garden?
 Soil Biology

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